From March 12 to June 19, the museum is featuring the works of Degas, a French impressionist artist who lived from 1834-1917 and worked with both two-dimensional and three-dimensional art. He is famous for his depictions of
Romantic-era ballet dancers, as well as nude figures of women.
Tampa’s gallery exhibition overwhelms the second floor of the museum, bleeding into the Roman and Greek art that provides a perfect balance to Degas’ own works.
According to the museum’s website, “Degas … himself spoke on more than one occasion of the connection between his dancers and ‘the movement and balance of rhythmic dance’ found in the art of ancient Greece.”
A particularly striking painting titled Groupe de Danseuses features ballerinas in motion, employing pastel and charcoal.
Blues were used to cast an eerie light on the dancers’ positions.
A sketch hanging in the gallery showed a ballerina with her leg on the barre, white tulle from her knee-length tutu trailing behind her.
Another sketch hung parallel, using vague lines to show another ballerina attending to her leg, giving the impression of a strenuous rehearsal.
Among the paintings and sketches, a series of Degas’ bronze statues are displayed in glass cubes. The plaques on the wall explain that Degas had all of his models pose naked for his moldings. Though caste in bronze, the statues are bursting with energy and textured strokes of the artists’ hand.
There is a Spanish dancer shimmying a tambourine with Flamenco flair and The Little Dancer, Aged 14, fitted with an actual tulle skirt.
A series of three statues show the step-by-step motions of an arabesque ponche, a ballet move in which the leg lifts behind the dancer as the upper-body leans forward. Sculptures of voluptuous women showering and splashing water in all their glory take up another corner of the museum.
The freedom of the women seemed risqué for Degas, especially considering the world’s emergence from the Victorian age.
As much as Degas’ work in the exhibit can be appreciated, controversy has surrounded the museum. According to the Tampa Tribune, Degas never made the bronze sculptures. They were in fact a part of 74 wax sculptures found by Degas’ family after his death in 1917.
The Tribune quotes art “purists” who believe that since the family’s estate decided to cast the statues in bronze after Degas’ death, they should not be considered a part of his works.
In the article, executive director of the Tampa Museum of Art Todd Smith is quoted saying, “We have always presented [the statues] as they are, bronze casts of wax originals.”
Despite artistic debate, the statues and paintings certainly can speak for themselves, and even maintain their relevance today. A hybrid of painting and sculpture culminate in Degas’ Picking Apples, which a museum attendee commented on as being similar to Star Wars’ Han Solo coming out of frozen carbonite.
The animation Degas illustrates in Picking Apples, and all his works, certainly seem one with the force that all human experiences can tap into.
For more information please visit tampamuseum.org.
Amanda Sieradzki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.